For about 25 minutes of Florida’s season-opening game against Florida Gulf Coast on Friday night, the 2016-17 Gators looked so much like the last two iterations of this team: Somnambulent on defense, soporific on offense, and suspect overall.
Then Florida unspooled on a 35-9 run over the final 16:04 of play to finish the game.
That ain’t the best way to get to a victory like the 80-58 win the Gators earned in Jackonsville against the Eagles, but it sure was effective on this night.
Florida won in ways old and new alike. The defense went from sleepy to suffocating, as the Gators allowed just two makes over that closing run, permitted the Eagles to hit just 15 of 35 two-pointers, and forced 19 turnovers — including a healthy 11 steals — that they turned into 24 points. John Egbunu feasted inside, with 13 points and eight boards, and Devin Robinson was efficient thanks to made shots, banking 14 points to lead the Gators on just seven attempts.
But Florida also acquitted itself quite well from the free throw line, making 19 of 24 charity stripe donations, and got a boost from sixth man Canyon Berry, who led Florida with 12 shots and contributed 13 points and six rebounds off the pine. Add in Kevarrius Hayes blocking a career-high five shots and Kasey Hill having a quiet, effective game — 11 points on five shots, four assists, and two steals — and this was a showcase for players turning to new pages in their Gators storybooks.
The slow starts — FGCU led by five in both halves, and erased a five-point halftime lead to do so early in the second — were as vexing as ever, and Florida’s incredible ability to be wounded by difficult threes falling for its opponents appears unchanged.
These Gators, though, found a way to finish away from Gainesville after falling behind. With 10 more dates on the schedule between now and their hopefully triumphant return to the O’Dome, they might have to do that again — so it’s a good thing to have at least one successful path down pat.